Many are in agreement; Juventus are not living up to expectations. A well-executed transfer market campaign that included the arrivals of champions such as Gonzalo Higuain and Dani Alves had people betting on the Old Lady, expecting her to be a firm favourite to win Serie A and even the Champions League. Two months into the season and the critics as well as the fans are disappointed, Juventus are playing poorly.
The Bianconeri have simply not clicked into gear. Some have blamed the large turnover in personnel, others have rightly pointed out the number of injuries but most will agree that Max Allegri has experimented too much resulting in tactical instability. The truth is, Juventus have to change the way they play and Allegri is well aware of that hence the need for more experimentation.
A tactician renowned for his ability to evolve, he took a physically strong and aggressive side and converted it into one that demonstrated technique on the ball, morphing into different formations in his first season.
Loyal to the 3-5-2 formation the following year, Allegri built the side around the beauty of Paul Pogba. With Claudio Marchisio doing the dirty work and Sami Khedira running back and forth with intelligence, Pogba's ability to carry the ball forward rapidly coupled with his vision and desire to participate in attacking moves ensured balance. Athletic and quick, he needed the 3-5-2 formation as much as it needed him.
The Frenchman's departure was not mourned as Miralem Pjanic arrived in his place and many imagined he would provide the quality required to ensure a smooth transition. Except he hasn't much to the chagrin of regular watchers. This is partly down to him and partly down to Allegri.
This Juve side is still built to exploit the skills of Pobga, so the very fact Pjanic cannot do what his predecessor managed provokes frustration, especially as he's been slotted into the same position. Both players are hugely talented but differ in what they can provide for the team.
Pjanic by nature is a playmaker, a man who plays with his head, instigating moves and facilitating attack moves rather than joining the attack to help finish off chances. Pogba by contrast would use his athleticism to burst forward, providing a direct approach before joining the offensive line. Pogba was a wide player who ran off the ball but didn't dictate attacks, Pjanic can dictate but he needs runners and movement ahead of him to exploit his vision.
It is said a 4-3-3 shape would better utilise the skills of the Bosnian, who would benefit from having another attacker ahead of him. But the 4-3-1-2 should also be studied. Pjanic would enjoy being a trequartista, especially if his midfielders jumped into the play in a timely fashion to create greater offensive danger. The second formation would also strengthen the team's ability through the middle where they have proved vulnerable thus far this season.
Playing progressive football that will help Pjanic to shine will take time, as will finding the right balance to extol the virtues of the new recruits. Now that Marchisio is back, the coach can experiment a little more but he needs both Marko Pjaca and Paulo Dybala available and healthy to truly implement new strategies.
Tactics aside, Pjanic must also help himself. We sympathise with the player's struggle to integrate within the new patterns of play but he must also accept that having only 35 touches of the ball against Napoli is unacceptable and not in keeping with a player of his calibre. Juventus only truly shone when the Bosnian was replaced.
While tactical solutions are being sought, the Bianconeri must play with determination, masking the lack of fluidity with greater intensity. "Against Napoli we had the right attitude, we were not there to lose, which was essential," Gianluigi Buffon told Gazzetta dello Sport. "We were lacking that a little bit in the past."
On Wednesday evening, Juve will need to repeat that show of character against Lyon if they are to secure top place in their Champions League group. For only the second time this season, Allegri will have the opportunity to play his first choice midfield and he'll be hoping for another comprehensive victory, like the team managed against Sampdoria.
As we have come to learn from Lyon, they possess both pace and physicality -- a combination that nearly ruined the Bianconeri had it not been for Buffon's heroic display the last time around. The only way to combat Lyon's direct style of play is by controlling the tempo and playing with patience and intelligence.
The Khedira-Marchisio partnership will be vital in this match. When they are played together, Juventus are better equipped at controlling the tempo and slowing down the game to hinder the opponent should they run with the ball at pace. Precision and composure, especially in the central areas, will ensure defensive safety. If possession is surrendered cheaply, Bruno Génésio's men have the weapons required to punish an error-prone opponent.
Allegri has already warned his team of the importance of this game, it's up to the players to produce a performance worthy of this great competition.